With the concerns the environment faces both locally and nationally, Citizens Against Ruining the Environment looks to continue its mission to make a difference.
CARE, which is a Lockport-based nonprofit, is in the middle of promoting some initiatives geared toward educating the public and protecting the environment.
At a recent meeting of the Joliet City Council, a CARE board member introduced an idea aimed at creating a shopping bag sales tax. The measure, if considered, intends to reduce the amount of plastic used by consumers.
“We’ve haven’t talked to any of the politicians or the city councils,” said Ellen Rendulich, director of CARE. “[The Joliet City Council,] that’s the first one. We’ve been kind of promoting this [shopping bag initiative] for the [last year.]”
Rendulich said this is an initiative the board agreed is worth getting behind.
“It came to us because we just like couldn’t believe how many plastic bags are flying around,” she said. “Then, we started [reflecting] on how much plastic is being used as a whole.”
That’s when CARE started reaching out to the local media to gauge the public’s interest in environmental concerns.
“Basically, what we’ve been doing is just kind of collecting information and getting a feel for what the public feels over the last year,” Rendulich said. “It’s no question everybody has something to say about plastic… It’s everywhere.”
“The biggest thing is most people agree that there’s an issue, but a lot of people—not all people—they don’t want to give up the convenience,” Rendulich said. “We do have to start breaking our dependency, but the problem is getting people to do it and how to do it.”
CARE was formed in 1995 in response to concerns for the use of a wood-burning incinerator in Lockport. Since then, the group has expanded to address environmental concerns throughout Will County.
Mary Burnitz, another director for CARE, said the group felt compelled to keep getting together to work on developing solutions to various environmental concerns.
“We’ve taken one issue after another,” she said.
CARE focuses its efforts on air and groundwater, along with the goal of promoting health of the environment.
“Not only us but working with other groups like Sierra Club, Green Peace, American Lung, different organizations, we’ve been able to shut down a lot of the coal plant facilities,” Rendulich said. “Two in Chicago have been shut down… The Joliet facility—there’s two sets of units there—they’re now being converted to gas. We don’t jump up and down about any of it, but it’s much, much cleaner.”
“The one in Romeoville, right here, you can see three of the four stacks are now shut down [and] only one stack is running,” Rendulich said. “We really feel that like that’s been a big accomplish, but it’s taken since 1995 to do it.”
Burnitz said people have shown responsiveness to the agenda that CARE has, but it all depends on the issue they’re looking to bring awareness to.
“We’ve done so many public hearings and public speaking [events] and gone places,” she said. “My own personal feeling is it’s hard to get the community involved… because a lot of it is very dry. Like nobody understands like Region 5, Title 5 Air Permits. It’s a lot of technical reading. It’s hard to get people involved in that.”
Gearing their efforts toward something relatable for other people is important to CARE.
“That was why this plastic [bag] project we decided to get involved with was perfect because everybody can relate to plastic,” Rendulich said.
Burnitz recognizes that change may not occur in one wide sweep, and said it would be nice to reduce, if not eliminate, the consumption of plastic to lower the amount of pollution.
CARE will take steps to approach other councils in the future to present initiatives, such as the shopping bag sales tax, with the goal of sparking change.
Federal changes impacting CARE
With the changes going on at the federal with respect to funding, the work of CARE and other organizations is not made easier, Rendulich said.
What’s more is the group, which is run by volunteers, doesn’t receive state or federal funding, but the impact is still felt by CARE board members.
“You hear them talking about cutting back on the EPA,” Rendulich said. “The EPA is not perfect, far from it but it’s all we have.”
Often, the industries that are polluters are monitoring themselves with the intent of sending reports to the EPA for review.
Rendulich said the level of oversight exerted needs to change.
“Even though the EPA is shorthanded, they don’t catch everything,” Rendulich said. “They do catch some of this. We actually need more money going toward these organizations so that they could do better monitoring, instead of these companies self-monitoring themselves.”
“What happens is even though we’re small, but what happens at the federal level will affect us because it takes away through the bigger groups,” Rendulich said. “Those bigger groups help us. They’re our feeder. We go to them for help. If they’re not there, who’s going to help us?”